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Bollywood gets a TV boost in South Africa

By Fakir Hassen, IANS

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The Bollywood film industry, enjoying a revival here over the last three years, has received an additional boost with the broadcast on public television of a season of top Hindi films for the first time.

The country's national public broadcaster, South African Broadcasting Corp (SABC), has started showing Bollywood films Saturday evenings for 13 weeks to test the market here for non-Indian viewers.

The first two screenings -- "Devdas" starring Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Madhuri Dixit, and the Mani Ratnam film "Bombay" -- have had huge responses from audiences who are seeing Bollywood films free on TV for the first time.

But it is still early to tell whether the promising doubling of the Saturday night audience will be consistent enough to ensure future airing of Bollywood products, according to Anu Nepal, commissioning editor for SABC.

A film distributor herself before joining SABC, Nepal used her knowledge of the South African Bollywood market to secure some of the best films of recent years.

"The channel has been looking at the Bollywood industry quite closely and in line with their strategy to offer movies to viewers, it was decided to showcase a season of Bollywood movies to test the market," Nepal told IANS.

"The global phenomenon of Bollywood is in line with the channel's objective of meeting the needs of its audience, which is locally rooted but globally connected."

Nepal emphasised the idea was not to introduce South African Indian audiences to Bollywood movies as they have had access for a long time through cinema, video, DVD and subscription TV channels like Zee TV, Sony Entertainment Television and B4U.

"It's to introduce the Bollywood genre of movies to a wider, non-Indian TV audience who until now have just been curious about it and have not been awarded the opportunity (on free-to-air TV) to view Bollywood movies.

"In the past Bollywood was not given much attention, but in South Africa now we are open to new ideas. We felt that the time was right and we would like to be the first to give this phenomenon to South African audiences."

Nepal commended Indian film distributors who had cooperated to provide the product for the pilot season at affordable rates.

"At one stage I almost dropped the whole idea because of the price but everything just worked out in the end. The project would not have been possible if distributors had not come on board."

All movies are subtitled to ensure that non-Indian audiences understand them.

The initial screenings have certainly made an impact on many viewers.

"I saw the advertisements for Indian films at cinemas and in newspapers and often wondered whether I should spend money on going to see something I might not understand," said Annemarie van Wyk, an Afrikaans-speaking white South African.

"After seeing 'Devdas' and 'Bombay' on TV, I now know that it will be worth my while to take my family to see Indian movies which are much more family-oriented than many of the Hollywood movies."

Busi Mhlongo of Soweto said: "Yes, I have definitely become a fan of Bollywood and I want to see more of Shah Rukh Khan.

"I used to think that Bollywood movies are only about singing and dancing but now I've seen they are well-made films with good themes. One just needs to be able to follow it to understand them and the subtitles help greatly for that."

While most South African Indians would have seen the films being shown on TV, they have welcomed the opportunity to see them again at no additional cost on public television.

At the launch of the Bollywood season, SABC talk show host Noelene Mahonlwana-Sanqu donned a sari for the first time in her life and expressed surprise as guests talked of the size of the Bollywood industry and the cult status of Bollywood stars, with fans even building temples in their honour sometimes.

"Look at me - a traditional Xhosa (indigenous South African tribe) woman wearing a sari and now watching Bollywood movies! Now this is what the new South Africa is all about," said Mahonlwana-Sanqu.

Films to be screened in coming weeks include "Company", "Dilwale", "Baghban", "Munnabhai M.B.B.S.", "Pinjar", "Ajnabee", "Dil Kya Kare", "Kaun" and "Dil Se".


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